The gospel of grace as the crux of honor-status reversal, part 2

In my forthcoming book, THE GLOBAL GOSPEL: Achieving Missional Impact in Our Multicultural World, I devote quite a few pages to the premise that honor-status reversal is a motif of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.

Ephesians 2:8–9 as the crux of honor-status reversalHonor-status reversal as a horizontal/social orientation in the second half of Ephesians 2

In my previous post about honor-status reversal, we explored what this motif means in Eph 2:1–10. We found that the dynamic of honor-status reversal in verses 1–7 refers to the personal and vertical—our relationship as believers with God the Father. In Eph 2:11–22, however, the dynamic is social and horizontal. Let’s take a look.

Verses 11–12 refer to the shameful status of unsaved peoples in relation to God’s people:
  • Unclean, defiled and without hope of being made clean: “Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision” (2:11)
  • No access to the honor and benefaction of the Messiah King: “separated from Christ” (2:12)
  • As aliens in relation to God’s great people Israel: “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel” (2:12)
  • Unaware of any relational destiny in God: “strangers to the covenants of promise” (2:12)
  • Living in despair without God’s presence: “having no hope and without God in the world” (2:12)
  • Disconnected from the most honorable relationship: “far off” … “strangers and aliens” (2:12)
  • On the other side of “the dividing wall of hostility” (2:12)
Verses 13–22 refer to the reversal of our honor-status in relation to God’s people:
  • From far away in shame to very near through the honor of Christ’s blood: “you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (2:13)
  • Messiah King himself is our new source of honor—dispelling our compulsion for honor competition and hostility: “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (2:14)
  • For a completely new kind of kinship group made in peace: “by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace” (2:15)
  • The shame of Christ’s body on the cross absorbed humanity’s compulsion for honor competition and hostility—to create a new body among humanity—a community of peace: “and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” (2:16)
  • Both Jew and Gentile (no superiority for being Jewish) were equally in need of the preaching of this grace and peace: “And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.” (2:17)
  • The high honor of access to Holy God is now available to all peoples—further dispelling honor competition: “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” (2:18)
  • Shameful state as strange aliens replaced by multi-dimensional honor of citizens, saints, family members: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (2:19)
  • Entering into the honor of God’s ancient story, the crux of which is the Messiah King and Son of God: “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (2:20)
  • Brothers and sisters in Christ become the new “sacred space”—wherever they are: “in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” (2:21)
  • In Christ your new community is the dwelling for the most honorable, holy presence of God: “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (2:22)

Ephesians 2:8–9 as the crux of honor-status reversalLet’s recall that the crux of the two dimensions of honor-status reversal is 
“Salvation by grace through faith”

What is located between these two dramatic expressions of honor-status reversal—between verses 1–7 and 11–22? The often-quoted verses about salvation by grace through faith:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph 2:8–9).

This “salvation verse” sits at the intersection of vertical and horizontal dimensions of honor-status reversal. The vertical dimension refers to a person’s relationship with God. The horizontal dimension refers to the Gentiles’ relationship with God’s people. The drama inherent in these dimensions of honor-status reversal—along with the liberation that this brought spiritually, emotionally and socially —is the context for “salvation by grace through faith.”

And the stunning impact on the gospel? Consider…

  • If salvation according to the context of Ephesians 2 is more of an honor/shame message than one of guilt/innocence, what does this mean for the way we present the gospel?
  • Could it be that being saved by grace—that having our sins forgiven—is actually the means for having our honor-status reversed in relation to God and to God’s people?
  • If salvation is both personal and social, how should this affect the way we live the gospel, and the way we share the gospel?
  • Could it be that the gospel is just as much about the covering of sin/shame and the gaining of honor—as it is about the forgiveness of sin/guilt and the gaining of righteousness?
  • Vast numbers of unreached peoples are motivated more by honor/shame than by innocence/guilt; what does this mean for believers who are trying to share with them the gospel of salvation in Jesus?

Seated at the right hand of God—with all enemies under His feet

that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places … And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church.
–Ephesians 1:20, 22 ESV

Consider these words describing the honor of the one reigning as victor—“seated him at his right hand.” Consider also the words of shame describing the ones conquered and put into submission—“he put all things under his feet.” These word meanings belong to a culture dominated by the values of honor and shame.

Observe the two verses in the Psalms from which the words in Ephesians are clearly derived:

The LORD says to my Lord: Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.
–Psalm 110:1

You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
–Psalm 8:6

Now consider how the following Old Testament verses reinforce 1) the honor of being seated at the right hand of the king, or 2) the honor of kingship ordained by God, or 3) the shame of enemies in being ‘put under the feet’ of the conqueror:

So Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him on behalf of Adonijah. And the king rose to meet her and bowed down to her. Then he sat on his throne and had a seat brought for the king’s mother, and she sat on his right.
1 Kings 2:19

daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor; at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.
Psalm 45:9

Then Solomon sat on the throne of the LORD as king in place of David his father. … And the LORD made Solomon very great in the sight of all Israel and bestowed on him such royal majesty as had not been on any king before him in Israel.
–1 Chronicles 29:23, 25

You know that David my father could not build a house for the name of the LORD his God because of the warfare with which his enemies surrounded him, until the LORD put them under the soles of his feet.
–1 Kings 5:3

In the New Testament, the supreme exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ is frequently described by Christ being seated at “God’s right hand;” and that simultaneously, all enemies of Christ are shamed by being “put under his feet.” The passage quoted from Ephesians chapter 1 at the beginning of this post is but one of many verses in the New Testament which reflect this theme.

Jesus said to him, … from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.
–Matthew 26:64

This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.
–Acts 2:32–33

For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For God has put all things in subjection under his feet. …
–1 Corinthians 15:25–27

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
–Colossians 3:1

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
–Hebrews 1:3

And to which of the angels has he ever said, Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet?
–Hebrews 1:13

Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven.
–Hebrews 8:1

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.
–Hebrews 10:12–13

looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
–Hebrews 12:2

who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
–1 Peter 3:22

Again, notice the sheer frequency of this theme in the New Testament: Jesus Christ is seated and enthroned at God’s right hand in highest honor—and correspondingly, all enemies, indeed “all things,” have been utterly subdued and shamed—put under his feet. The force of this truth cannot be appreciated without understanding the pivotal cultural value of honor and shame.

The honor of Christ’s never-ending victory over death

… not only in this age but also in the one to come.
Ephesians 1:21 ESV

What is the significance of Jesus Christ having this highly honored state of being “… not only in this age but also in the one to come”? Surely there are some cultural signals that give perspective to this statement. Why is Paul making this point of Christ’s never-ending Lordship and victory over death?

  1. Could it be that Paul has in mind the stark impermanence of the Greek and Roman deities of his time? When one reads about the petty variableness of the Greek gods, when one considers the tragic deaths of many of the Roman rulers, it seems that Paul is emphasizing that, whereas Greek gods are capricious and Roman rulers both capricious and temporary, Jesus Christ will absolutely remain—permanently!—as the highly exalted one “… not only in this age but also in the one to come.”
  2. Yes, the victory which was won when the Father raised Jesus Christ from the dead is permanent, but is also personal for those who follow Christ. It represents an eternal victory over death and hell, pain and tragedy. Therefore, followers of Jesus Christ—those who are His—those who are in Christ—are assured that when they face death, their own resurrection will also be eternal. It is a living hope grounded in the permanence of the resurrected Christ “not only in this age but also in the one to come.” How personal is this for believers? Consider that just as God the Father raised Jesus Christ from the dead (Eph. 1:20), so also God has “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6). This constitutes for believers a profound identification with the honor of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What is the affect of this profound honor, this living hope? It is the ability for the Christ-follower to live without guilt, without fear, without shame. When a believer identifies with the honor and righteousness of Christ, he or she is set free from the need to play petty games of one-upmanship.

Jerome Neyrey has a whole chapter in his book Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew, called “Vacating the Playing Field.” Neyrey expounds on The Sermon on the Mount, and explains how Jesus is calling his disciples to vacate the ‘public playing field’ of the ‘honor and shame game.’ Neyrey says:

In regard to the value of honor, several things should be noted. First, Jesus contrasts grants of honor from neighbors (“praised by men,” Matt. 6:2) with grants for honor from God (your heavenly Father will reward you,” 6:4, 6, 18; see John 12:43). As always, people require some acknowledgment of their worth. Second, even in his rhetoric, Jesus himself plays the honor game, challenging others and claiming honor himself. He does not attack the honor system itself; in fact he operates out of it by challenging other versions of it and ranking one grant of honor over another. Far from dismantling the system, he redirects how honor is bestowed and withdrawn. Third, Jesus invites disciples to join his honorable world, where the opinions of neighbors do not count for much and where their expectations do not control one’s behavior. And so he replaces the cultural expectations of the local code with his own expectations. Fourth, Jesus’ subversive commands would not be imaginable to disciples unless an alternative structure for worth, reputation, and respect were put in place, namely, honor from Jesus and reward from one’s heavenly Father. [1]

Do you see from Neyrey’s explanation that discipleship to Jesus Christ may be viewed as an exchange of a human-based source of honor for a Jesus-based one? Criticizing the Pharisees, Jesus said, “for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:43).

Through salvation, one receives the righteousness of Jesus Christ in exchange for condemnation. One also embraces the honor of Christ in exchange for shame. The result is to live courageously, freely, magnanimously, generously, passionately—indeed, gloriously!

O Lord, do I reflect this freedom from the opinions of others, this courage and passion—this honor for you as Lord in my life?

1. Jerome Neyrey: Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), p. 221.

For what does Paul pray to the “Father of glory”? Part 3

that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,
far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.
–Ephesians 1:20–21 ESV

In verse 21 we have a clearer description of where Christ is “seated.” He not only is seated “at his right hand in the heavenly places;” he is seated “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.”

What is going on here in this verse? The apostle is expressing the super-exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ after his resurrection. The language here is descriptive of the highest possible honor being given to Jesus Christ following his death on the cross by which Christ endured the greatest possible shame. The power of this passage is easily lost on those who are not from an honor-shame culture. Let’s consider in greater detail the meanings of key words:

  1. “far above all rule”—the Greek word is ‘arche.’ According to Strong’s Concordance, the meaning is: “beginning, origin; the person or thing that commences, the first person or thing in a series, the leader, that by which anything begins to be, the origin, the active cause.” Vine’s says, “Begin, Beginning, Beginner: means ‘a beginning.’ The root arch—primarily indicated what was of worth. Hence the verb archo meant “to be first,” and archon denoted “a ruler.” How interesting that the Bible says, Jesus is “far above” whoever one may imagine has the first or highest place of worth or honor.
  2. “far above all … authority”—the Greek word is ‘exousia.’ According to Strong’s, the meaning is “the power of authority (influence) and of right (privilege) … the power of rule or government (the power of him whose will and commands must be submitted to by others and obeyed). So Jesus is far above all power of authority, influence, right and privilege, rule or government.
  3. “far above all … power”—the Greek word is ‘dynamis.’ According to Strong’s, the meaning is “strength power, ability … inherent power, power residing in a thing by virtue of its nature, or which a person or thing exerts and puts forth … power for performing miracles … moral power and excellence of soul … the power and influence which belong to riches and wealth.
  4. “far above all … dominion”—the Greek word is ‘kyriotes.’ According to Strong’s, the meaning simply, “dominion, power, lordship.”

From the perspective of the pivotal cultural value of honor and shame, it is helpful to understand that this was a hierarchical society, as opposed to an egalitarian society like the American one. This means that leadership titles—caesar, king, high priest, lord, father, grandfather—were hugely significant. The ascribed honor given to people in high authority was immense. However, for people living in an equality-based society like the West, where people in authority are often viewed with cynicism and even disdain, this idea of great respect and honor for people in places of authority is viewed almost as a weakness, not as a strength. In America especially, we have no king, therefore, we have no social equivalent for kingly rule and royalty.

So to grasp the full weight of Ephesians 1:21, we Westerners and especially, we Americans, must imagine ourselves in a different society—one in which hierarchy trumps equality, and where the currency of honor and shame trumps the currency of money and material things.

What would the first-century readers and hearers of this letter from Paul have thought as they first encountered these verses describing the greatly elevated honor and super-exaltation of Jesus Christ?

Can we imagine the comfort they would feel in knowing that the Lord and Savior residing in their hearts would be sitting at the right hand of the Father—and given a name above all names?

Can we imagine first-century peasants who have forsaken the honor of their own kinship ties—and the vital loss of wealth and honor that went with that—in order to follow Jesus Christ? Can we imagine how the super-exaltation of their Lord more than compensated for their own loss of honor as they ‘drank in’ the honor of being 1) a child of their heavenly Father, and 2) being in Christ by faith, thus, being with their Savior who is sitting at the Father’s right hand? (see Ephesians 2:6).

Is it possible for Western Christians to even begin to feel the relief, the density, the joy—that the glory of the resurrected Christ gave to destitute, honor-starved believers in the first-century Mediterranean world?

For what does Paul pray to the “Father of glory”? Part 2

… according to the working of his great might, that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,
–Ephesians 1:19–20 (ESV)

In the last four verses of Ephesians chapter 1, Paul completes his long prayer for believers by using the strongest possible honor and shame language—to describe the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the foundation of our hope in God. Here is an outline of the honor and shame references in the first two of those four verses … beginning with the end of verse 19 and then verse 20:

  1. “according to the working of his great might, that he worked in Christ:” power and might are inherently honorable. “Power, moreover, always expresses honor in the ancient world” [1]. The greatness of the power displayed is commensurate with the greatness of the honor achieved.
  2. “when he raised him from the dead:” this is an event by which immense achieved honor is accrued both to God the Father and God the Son because of the utterly unique supernatural power necessary to accomplish this. Relatedly, there is great honor in the resounding victory associated with it, for power is never neutral, it is always expressed in relation to an opponent or enemy. The resurrection is, in fact, a phenomenal act for which the greatest honor imaginable ought to be given to God the Father and God the Son.
  3. “and seated him at his own right hand:” this speaks of ascribed honor—in three ways: First, Jesus Christ is “seated. ”This is the place of rest and authority appropriate for kings; others are kneeling, standing, working, bowing before—but Jesus is sitting. Second, where Jesus is sitting—at the Father’s own right hand—is the unique place of singular honor, for only one Person can sit at the right hand of the Almighty Sovereign God. And third, it is at the “right hand.” Neyrey says, “The right hand is deemed honorable both because it is the ‘right,’ not the left, and because it is the weapon- or power-wielding arm” [2].

Can you imagine what this dramatic exclamation of the honor of Jesus Christ might mean to people immersed in a culture of honor and shame? For people in the peasant culture of the New Testament / Mediterranean world to which this letter was addressed—people constantly struggling to avoid shame and maintain their honor in their community—I can only imagine how encouraging, how uplifting and exhilarating this letter must have been.

But there is much more to come concerning honor and shame before the end of Ephesians chapter 1.

_________

1. Jerome Neyrey: Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), p. 58.
2. Ibid., p. 67.

For what does Paul pray to the “Father of glory”? Part 1

that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,
having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might
–Ephesians 1:17–19 ESV

For what does Paul pray to the “Father of glory”? He prays that he will give us …

  • “a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him” (v 17)
  • “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened” (v 18)

So Paul is praying for believers at Ephesus—he is praying for Christians gathered in a local community—to have profound new understanding and experience together. The assumption here is that there is a vast gulf between a) what God has given to his children in terms of spiritual blessings, and b) what his children actually understand and experience of those spiritual blessings. Paul is serving as a mediator on behalf of the church at Ephesus—doing so through prayer—that this wide gulf would vanish.

The evidences of this “vanished gulf” are that believers would know, experientially:

  1. “the hope to which he as called you” (v 18)
  2. “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (v 18)
  3. “the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might” (v 19)

Now from the perspective of honor and shame, there does not seem to be much in the opening phrase, “the hope to which he has called you.” However, there is a very significant honor and shame element when one digs a little deeper. This correlating verse, Colossians 1:27, adds much clarity: “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Ah, yes, there is the key: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” This greatest of all hopes is the avoidance of shame, and the reaching of a destiny “of glory.” And how does one arrive at this “glory”? The secret is simply “Christ in you.”

One could say that for peoples rooted in an honor and shame social system, the gospel is most powerfully and simply, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The reason that “Christ in you” is such a great hope for “glory” is explained in Ephesians 1:20–22, in which the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is explained in the language of honor and shame. This will be unpacked in the next entry.

But before we go further, let’s also consider the other two phrases mentioned above from Ephesians 1:18–19 in the light of the cultural values of honor and shame.

First, from verse 18: “what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.” Compare this to Ephesians 1:11 in which we are told, “In him we have an inheritance…”, and verses 13–14, in which “we were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance;” here, the inheritance belongs to believers. But here in verse 18, the inheritance belongs to God. Paul prays that believers will know “what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.”

Could it be that there is a facet of the glory and honor of God Almighty by which He derives pleasure and worth from his inheritance—His relational bounty—in the saints?

The honor of praying to “the Father of glory”

That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him:
Ephesians 1:17 ESV

Here are some considerations about the fact that Paul’s prayer is to “the Father of glory” …

In verse 17 is this phrase: “the Father of glory.” One meaning of this phrase is simply that God is glorious.

Glory is perhaps the most honor-laden word in Scripture. It speaks of renown and fame, weightiness and density, beauty and extreme value. The Hebrew word for glory is kabod, and includes the meaning of weight. Paul is praying to “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory…”

Paul is saying that God is glorious; this is His most prominent feature. Could it be that by using the word, glory, Paul is saying that all of the attributes of God … holiness, love, righteousness, justice, omnipotence, omniscience, mercy, and so on … are all wrapped up under the banner of “glory?”

Here is a second possible meaning: Could it also be that Paul is saying that since God is the “Father of glory” that he begets glory in those who are created in his image? Since God is the “Father of glory,” and as the second Person of the Godhead, his Son Jesus Christ is equally glorious, therefore all who are part of his family, who are part of the body of Jesus Christ—are also made with the potential for glory. The “Father of glory and honor” begets glory and honor to his children.

The “Father of glory” is a great Patron and benefactor, revealing his immense honor. According to scholar Jerome Neyrey, in the ancient world, there existed a “code of patronage” [1] as part of the social system of honor and shame. In the “code of patronage,” the patron is honored by giving to his clients, while at the same time, the client’s honor is elevated.”

According to the code of patronage, it belongs to the patron to show exceptional favoritism to select individuals. “This is expressed clearly in the stories of both Old and New Testament persons, including Abraham, David, and Jesus.

God chooses to bless Abraham through land, protection, and descendants (Genesis 12:1–3); near the end of his life, David sings the praises of his Patron in 2 Samuel 22; and in Matthew 3:17, God speaks to Jesus saying, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” In all of these cases, God is the wealthy, honorable Patron who is demonstrating his honor and wealth by choosing to bless the “client.”

Neyrey writes, “The terms patron and client do not appear, but only a person unfamiliar with the culture would fail to recognize the singular favoritism David enjoys with God. Thus, when it says that God is “well pleased with him,” this declares for all to hear that God has elected Jesus, shown him special favor, and entered into a unique patron-client relationship with him.”

1. For a discussion about the patron-client relationship that pervaded the honor-shame culture of the New Testament, see Jerome Neyrey: Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew (Louisville: Westminster Press, 1998), p. 37–39.

A prayer about honor and shame

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints,
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,
–Ephesians 1:15–16

So Paul prays for the saints. In the original Greek, verses 3 through 14 are one sentence. There seems to be a massive set of blessings represented by that fact that believers—followers of the most honored Beloved One, Jesus Christ—are, spiritually speaking, in Christ.

The honor that comes from this myriad of blessings is vast and bends the imagination of the most mature and intelligent Christian. As stated above, these glorious blessings stretch from eternity past into the present moment, and on into eternity future—to the praise of God’s glory.

While words are used by Paul to describe the reality of this multifaceted diamond of blessing and honor and glory, Paul is keenly aware that there is a huge gap between the transcendent cosmic spiritual reality of the honor that believers possess in Christ … and the actual understanding and experience of these transcendent blessings in the life of a Christian. Paul knows that the mere use of words does not guarantee their understanding.

And so he prays. Interestingly, verses 15 through 22 consist of a one-sentence prayer in the original Greek, as though mirroring the vast blessings of the one-sentence panorama in verses 3 through 14.

And how may Paul’s prayer be described? What will we discover, looking through the lens of the cultural value of honor and shame?

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“Honor and shame” quote of the day, from Bruce J. Malina:

… Thus the king of the nation (or the father of the family) simply cannot be dishonored within the group; he is above criticism. What he is guarantees the evaluation of his actions. Any offense against him only stains the offender.

Further, the king in his kingdom (like the father in his family) can do no wrong because he is the arbiter of right and wrong. Any criticism apart from the conventional, usual protests (such as that taxes are too high) is rated an act of disloyalty, a lack of commitment. No one has a right to question what the king decides to do, just as no individual in the group has any right to  follow what he or she might personally think is right or wrong. The king (father) must be followed and obeyed; he is sufficient conscience for all concerned. … [1]

Think about this quote in regards to Paul’s prayer in verses 15–22, acknowledging that Jesus Christ is far above all rule, power, authority, dominion … the head of the church … the absolute Lord of all. The honor of Jesus Christ is without equal. I will have much more on this in upcoming posts.

1. From a section called “Dimensions of Collective Honor” in Bruce J. Malina: The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993), p. 48.

He heard about their faith

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints,
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,
–Ephesians 1:15–16 ESV

Paul heard of their faith in the Lord Jesus, and their love toward all the saints. Here Paul is acknowledging that he’s heard about them—he is complimenting them for their faith and love. He is acknowledging that there is a certain renown about these believers, and thus this is way of giving them honor. Concerning these believers, their affections are directed upward in faith toward heaven and outward in agape love toward their community of believers.

Because of their faith and love, Paul prays, but it is not a quick one-time prayer. “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering your in my prayers…” This is sustained prayer, unceasing prayer. It is prayer saturated with thanksgiving.

This surely is a figure of speech—hyperbole or exaggeration—that Paul does “not cease to give thanks…” But it reflects the passion, concern, and enthusiasm for the saints at Ephesus which is in his heart, and the sense of responsibility he feels for their growth and maturity in Christ. There is a deep relational connection between Paul and these believers and Jesus Christ.

There is an interplay between the Godhead (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), an individual person (Paul), and groups of people (the community of believers receiving this letter)—which is so beautiful and characteristic of Christianity.

From the perspective of honor and shame, this verse displays Paul’s way of honoring the believers to whom he is writing. I wonder: was Paul aware that his letter would be read by believers in a variety of communities in Asia Minor—and on through the ages by believers all over the world—further enhancing the reputation and honor of this community of saints?

The honor of living “to the praise of his glory”

“who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”
–Ephesians 1:14

At the end of this magnificent description (verses 3–14) of the blessings of God to those in Christ … is this phrase: “to the praise of his glory.” But it is the third time it appears in the passage. We observe a variation of this phrase in verse 6, and then again two more times in this passage:

  1. In verse 6: “to the praise of his glorious grace…”
  2. In verse 12: “to the praise of his glory.”
  3. In verse 14: “to the praise of his glory.”

“The praise of his glory” is, indeed, the end for which all things are created, the overarching theme of the Story. But I also see three nuances relative to time in the above three Scriptures:

  1. In verse 6: “to the praise of his glorious grace” refers to eternity past, because it follows the words in verse 5, “he predestined us for adoption as sons…”
  2. In verse 12: “to the praise of his glory” refers to present tense believers—“that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.” The little word be—this is refers to present time existence, the first generation of Christ-followers who believe in him in present moment of history.
  3. In verse 14: “to the praise of his glory” refers to the Holy Spirit being “the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it…” It is a future time reality.

So we see the comprehensive nature of all of reality—eternity past, eternity in the present moment, and eternity future—all of it exists to the praise of his glory.

This means that all of life, all of eternity, all of the cosmos exists for the glory of God, and although there is indeed a cosmic fallenness and depravity from sin on this planet, it will one day all be healed. It will one day all be united in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Beloved.

What does this mean for me today?

  1. I pray, Lord, that you would give me passion for your presence, for your glory. As Moses prayed, “Lord, show me your glory.” Lord, show me your ways.
  2. I see, O God, that I can live with more integrity concerning your glory. I fall far short, Lord Jesus, in expressing this passion for your honor.
  3. When I fail to pray, I miss the transcendence of your honor and glory.